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“Diet is just …”

May 10, 2012

Trigger warning:  Diet and eating disorder talk

How many remember the old Garfield cartoon-turned-poster that read, “Diet is just ‘die’ with a ‘T’ at the end”?  I can’t be the only middle aged person here. Right? Right?!

As I recall, this first came out in the 1980s, when I was busy being a teenager and really accepting all the hype about diets.  You know, that “they” really were correct and my life would be perfect if I’d just lose weight.

I did all sorts of things to lose weight. I tried to “turn anorexic” for a while. Yes, I know that anorexia is a mental illness and one cannot simply “turn” anorexic, but I didn’t know it back then. I spent hours exercising a day. In my school, a student could pick the type of gym activities they wanted to do. Most years, I picked the classes that were aerobics and weight lifting (aerobics for the girls, weight lifting for the boys). Besides 45 minutes of high intensity aerobics (anybody ever remember the Jane Fonda exercise tapes?), I would do another hour and a half at home (I’d bought the same tapes they had at school so I could do them at home). And, oh yeah, school was a bit over one mile away, and I walked both ways every day.

I came up with some really crazy diets on my own. I even tried to be a vegetarian to lose weight, but I didn’t understand the concept of vegetarianism. Only eating a big helping of whatever frozen vegetables Grandma was making with dinner wasn’t exactly the most nutritious way to eat! I didn’t realize how disordered my eating had become. But then, as I recently shared, I didn’t have the most nutritionally advantageous diet when I was living with the parents.

I continued with the disordered eating and exercise patterns until my middle 30s. One memorable exchange about my weight with my first counselor still sticks with me today. I was talking about how fat I was and how I wanted to really do something this time. I told my counselor that I was SURE I could lose five pounds a week! It should be easy if I just cut my intake in half and doubled my exercise (at that time, I was walking about four miles per day).

She challenged my claim and said that an expectation of five pounds per week was too high.  So, I went home and thought about it. The next week when I went back, I told her I’d thought about it and decided she was probably right. Five pounds a week was probably too high an expectation, so I changed my weight loss goal to 20 pounds a month.

The thing is, I honestly did not see that my “relaxed” goal was identical to my high expectation goal.

Finally — FINALLY — I realized that if diets actually worked, then at some point in my life I would have reached my goal weight, even if only for a week. Armed with this new realization, I stopped dieting.

But the self-loathing that came with the dieting was, and still is, much harder to give up.

In the years since I’ve stopped dieting, I’ve realized that a diet is, fundamentally, a form of contempt.  It’s a contempt of life, of enjoying oneself, of loving oneself, of caring for oneself. The first thing a person has to do to accept they “have” to lose weight is buy into the concept that they are NOT awesome just the way they are. By denying oneself the food one wants to eat, and yes, that includes good fruits and veggies (“oh, I can’t eat a banana, it’s not on my diet, it’s so full of sugar!”) one is denying oneself love.

And I’ve yet to see a “diet to lose weight” diet that doesn’t subscribe, somehow, to starvation levels of calories.

I’ve fallen off the bandwagon of no dieting a few times, and wanted to fall off the wagon many more times.  It’s hard to practice self-acceptance when almost everybody you talk to, and almost everything you read in magazines/newspapers/on the internet or see on television, tells you that if you are a Fatty McFatterson, you are NOT allowed to have any self-esteem!

Look, here’s a new diet so you can starve yourself.  Here, let’s tell you how ugly you are and how you should kill yourself. Phone in now for your free trial offer of this amazing weight loss pill, but only if you have serious weight to lose, like, you know, more than 30 pounds!

My hardest times right now are usually when I’m trying on bathing suits. Not that I’ve managed to wear one in public in ages, mind you, but I do try on new ones, and usually buy one, at the beginning of Spring. You know, just in case I manage to make it to the pool.

The thing is, though, even with the times I’ve almost gone back onto a diet, I keep reminding myself of the facts:

  1. Correlation does not equal causation —  I have more of a risk of stroke because my grandfather had multiple strokes (and eventually died from strokes) than I have of diabetes because, as far as I know, there is no instance of diabetes in my family.
  2. BMI is bogus — It was written by a mathematician to define what is “average” (i.e., the average man) and had nothing to do with obesity or so-called obesity related illnesses at all.
  3. BMI is bogus (part two) — In 1998, the Federal Government lowered the thresholds for the categories for overweight and obesity.
  4. Only 5% of people who diet ever keep off all the weight the lose for five years — I am absolutely NOT a five percenter.

Eventually, I remember the freedom I have when I don’t diet: the freedom to eat what I want, when I want; the freedom to easily turn down something I don’t want and not feel deprived because I know this isn’t my one chance this week/month/year to eat that thing.

Eventually, on good days, these thoughts help me to regain the realization that eating nutritious and tasty food is the exact opposite of contempt. It is and act of self-love. It is an act of self-nurturing.

“Diet is just ‘die’ with a ‘T’.”  Maybe more so than Garfield ever imagined.

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